Issue # 10 -
The Marvelous Chicken-Powered Car
Mr. Bate stands beside his famous
Detroit and the large petroleum interests keep saying
it can't be done but a 62-year-old English inventor
has already done it. Harold Bate, chicken farmer and
inventor from Devonshire, England, says you can power
your motor vehicles with droppings from chickens, pigs
or any other animal of your choice... even with your
own waste! To prove his statement is no idle boast,
Harold has been operating a 1953 Hillman and a
five-ton truck on methane gas generated by decomposing
pig and chicken manure for years. He claims that the
equivalent of a gallon of high-test gasoline costs him
only about 3d and that the low-cost methane makes his
vehicles run faster, cleaner and better than they
operate on "store bought" fuel.
was born in 1908 in the city of Stoke in England's
industrial midlands. He left school at the age of 14
to work as an apprentice mechanic with the Potteries
Traction Company. Here he learned many basic
engineering skills working on the old streetcars
before becoming a maintenance engineer with the
Stafford Coal and Iron Company. While with Stafford,
Bate spent his spare time developing submarine escape
devices and advanced independent suspension systems
for automobiles. In 1937, Harold Bate lost a leg in a
driving accident. This would have been the beginning
of an insurmountable infirmity for many people... but
not for Harold. Ten years later, with wife, young
daughter and cane, he set out for the grandest
adventure of all: a driving tour of Africa.
Harold Bate's pilot Manure
Extractor and the Manure Digester that he
uses for day-to-day generation of
automobile and truck fuel. Note the
high-pressure compressor with which Bate
fills a storage bottle (lower left of
photo) to a pressure of 1,100 pounds per
"We traveled in an old ex-Army jeep," says Bate," and,
in eight years, drove 380,000 miles. It was hard, it
was hot and -- at times -- it was dangerous... but we
wouldn't have missed it for the world. We loved every
minute. Our daughter learnt more out there than she
ever would have in school." While in Africa, Bate
prospected for gold and uranium in Rhodesia [Zimbabwe]
and Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and -- on more than one
occasion -- the family was attacked by bandits and had
to fight for their lives. For one long stretch, they
lived off what wild game they could hunt in mile after
mile of mangrove swamps (well stocked with poisonous
snakes) through which they passed. But there were good
times too. The Bates were treated like royalty when
they visited the sheiks of the North African deserts,
for instance. As the remarkable and durable Mr. Bate
says, "It was one hell of an adventure." On his return
to England in 1955, Harold worked as an electrical
contractor, started a ferry boat service and drove a
taxi before turning his attention to unleashing the
power hidden in manure.
developed a small conversion unit that makes any
ordinary automobile virtually pollution-free. What's
more (and hang on to your hat for this one) the Bate
converter can also cut your fuel, oil, sparkplug and
other miscellaneous automobile operating expenses by a
factor of ten! The Bate system accomplishes these
amazing feats as naturally as a compost pile by
recycling animal droppings and sewage into methane: a
colorless, odorless, flammable gas. This means that,
as a bonus, Harold Bate's development just may go a
long way toward safely and naturally reclaiming the
mountains of waste with which "civilized man" seems
determined to bury the planet.
From this cluttered home
workshop, Harold Bate challenged the
multi-billion dollar petroleum industry
Interestingly enough, Bate did not make his noteworthy
breakthrough in a well-equipped laboratory or while
working on a multi-million dollar research grant. The
converter and other parts of the Bate system were
developed by Harold from odds and ends at hand as he
puttered about his 450-year-old cottage and chicken
farm in the heart of Devonshire. To be sure, Harold
Bate has invented nothing new in the way of a basic
process. Methane has been forming naturally in swamps
and waste organic matter since long before man walked
the earth and many ingenious experimenters have
harnessed this source of fuel in the past (see
"Solution to Pollution", "Electricity from Manure
Gases" and "How to Generate Power from Garbage" in
Mother Earth News No. 3 http://www.motherearthnews.com/mothers_library/).
But Harold does seem to be the first to have actually
put the whole idea on a workable, homestead, "anybody
can do it" basis.
is methane, a common by-product of the natural process
of decomposition and a much cleaner fuel than
gasoline. Bate generates methane in usable quantities
by simply speeding up nature a bit with a pressure
"digester"... just as an organic gardener speeds up
the decomposition of natural matter with a compost
pile. There's nothing complicated nor expensive about
the Bate digester. Whereas the large petroleum
corporations must refine gasoline in complex,
multi-million dollar plumbing nightmares, Harold's
methane cooker looks more like a recycled home fruit
canner and is small enough to fit into the corner of
any basement or garage. Converting a private car to
operate on this natural fuel is just as
straightforward and economical and -- for an initial
investment of $100 or less and a little elbow grease
-- almost anyone should be able to start riding the
roads virtually free of charge, assuming there's a
supply of animal droppings and/or other organic waste
Graphic proof that Harold's small
pilot Manure Extractor does the job!
Methane from the digester first bubbles
into a gallon bottle of water and then
passes to a small gas jet where it is
easily ignited and supports a flame.
Obviously, part of the methane generated
by a large digester can be piped to a
burner under the extractor for use in
maintaining the tank at the optimum gas
The 16th Century Bate abode where this "everyman's
gasoline plant" was born is not the easiest place to
find. It's two miles from the nearest small village,
well off the beaten track and completely hidden by
trees... which is why the Bates moved in some four
years ago. "We're away from it all here," says Harold.
"We can't hear any traffic nor church bells. That's a
blessing. I hate church bells... they're so mournful."
Despite -- or, perhaps, because of -- their reclusive
life, the Bates are cheerful, hospitable people who
love the country and the way of life that goes with
closest friends are numbered amongst the local
wildlife community and, throughout the day, a variety
of birds fly into the open windows of the family
cottage. Rabbits and squirrels are also a common sight
on the Bate homestead.
tranquil setting, I asked Mr. Bate how he came to
start work on his "free and clean" automobile fuel.
started with the Suez Crisis in 1953," Harold said.
"When Egypt closed the canal, it blocked England's
supply route with the Middle and Far East. This meant
that petrol (gasoline) imports were crippled and fuel
here in Great Britain was rationed. I got fed up with
that and started looking round for an alternative form
of power. I knew that gas engines were used before
petrol and I also knew that gas was more efficient
than petrol... so I began to experiment.
Harold Bate holds pressure tank
of home-made methane.
"During the war I had done quite a bit of pig farming,
and I knew that manure contained gases and that pig
manure was very potent. A number of experimenters and
sanitation facilities have been extracting gas from
sewage for years now, but it's diluted so much that
the process is slow. I therefore decided to
concentrate on animal manure and find the best blend
from which to extract methane... and then develop a
method of feeding this gas into a car's engine.
experiments with just about every type of animal
manure, I found I got the best results from mixing
that of chickens and pigs. Chicken manure contains
more nitrogen than others and pig droppings are useful
because they generate heat so well."
also found a certain amount of straw and/or vegetable
waste to be a valuable addition to his methane raw
materials. The manure contributes mainly nitrogen and
the straw provides carbon, it seems. The ideal mixture
is about 75% droppings (half pig and half chicken) and
25% straw. Methane brewed up from this formula has a
caloric value per liquid pound of 22,000 B.T.U. as
compared to gasoline's 19,000, propane's 19,944 and
excreta-straw formula is first stacked up into a
compost pile, doused with water and left exposed to
the air for about a week of aerobic pre-fermentation.
When this pre-fermentation is complete, about three
hundred pounds of the mixture is shoveled into a heavy
steel container (Bate recommends a trash-mongered
domestic water heater) and sealed shut. A wait of
four, five or even seven days -- depending on
conditions -- is then necessary before fermentation of
the first batch starts. If a little of the original
mix is left behind as a starter, however, gas
production will usually begin within 24 hours for all
Nothing fancy here! Harold has
simply "hay wired" the methane gas
cylinder valve to the steering wheel of
The real secret of a rapid, strong and complete
transformation of waste into the maximum amount of
methane is the maintenance of the 85 to 90 deg. F
(29-32 deg. C) temperature at which the necessary
bacteriological digestion is most active. If the
temperature of the digester rises above 104 deg. F (40
deg C), no gas will be produced at all -- in extremely
hot regions a methane production unit should be shaded
or otherwise protected from the heat. A digester set
up in a temperate or cooler zone, on the other hand,
may need some supplemental heating from an electric
element inside the tank or a small kerosene (or
methane!) flame under the unit.
By the way,
for those who speculate that the methane used to heat
the digester might total more than the gas produced by
the unit... 'tain't so! An extremely low flame (a car
sump heater is ideal) under a Bate digester can cause
the tank to yield a right vigorous flow of gas.
fitted his digester tank with a safety valve set for
60 p.s.i. "just in case". Pressures in the extractor
seldom reach a third that level, however, because
Harold considers a digester internal pressure of 20
p.s.i. to be the signal to start up a high-pressure
compressor (of the type used for filling aqualung
diving bottles) and pump the collected gas from the
extractor into an ordinary high-pressure bottle.
between the digester and pressure bottle extracts the
small quantities of phosphoric acid and ammonia that
are present and the remaining almost-pure methane
liquefies at a pressure of 1110 p.s.i.
The Bate Auto Gas Converter
(demand regulator) as mounted in Harold's
1953 Hillman. The white cover here is
purely decoration. Note, again, the rather
casual manner in which Bate has installed
his accessories in his own car.
Bate finds that it takes about one-half hour of steady
pumping to fill a 32-pound (4.5 Imperial gallon)
bottle to its capacity of liquid methane. This figures
out to approximately 200 cubic feet of dry gas... or a
fuel equivalent of seven gallons of good petrol (about
eight and three-quarters gallon of high-test gasoline,
to readers in the US).
will continue to produce for several weeks and will
then have to be topped up with more manure and the
sludge run off. All in all, a single filling of 300
pounds of manure will produce about 1500 cubic feet of
methane equivalent to roughly 50 gallons of petrol (62
US gallons). That's not bad and Bate figures it costs
him only three cents to produce the equal of an
Imperial gallon of petrol.
Once he had
a guaranteed supply of methane, Harold next faced the
problem of getting the high-pressure gas into his
car's engine in the exact amount required by the
powerplant under all operating conditions. His answer,
of course, was the now-famous 6" x 5" carburetor
attachment which he calls the Bate Auto Gas Converter.
attachment (it looks like a model flying saucer) fits
between the methane pressure bottle and the car's
carburetor and allows the cylinders of the engine to
suck just enough methane -- and no more -- from the
bottle as the fuel is needed. The only modification
made on the engine itself is the simple tubular jet
which is threaded into the choke tube of the
carburetor before the throttle butterfly valve. A run
of rubber tubing connects this to the Bate converter
and a further run goes back to wherever the methane
bottle is carried. No mechanical linkage or other
complicated modification is necessary.
We find secured by another twist
of wire the pressure tank of methane which
fuels the Bate Hillman. In this case, the
tank is a recycled "camping gas" bottle of
a type common in England.
Incidentally, the storage of the methane need not be
restricted to high pressure bottles. A rubber dinghy,
air bed or even giant inner tubes carried on the roof
of the car would be just as effective... or as Bate
says, "Fill your tires with methane and run till
they're flat!" Motoring on methane offers more than
the $.03-a- gallon economy mentioned earlier. Bate
finds that the gas gives 97 to 98% combustion compared
to the 27% combustion (with the rest going out the
exhaust in the form of carbon and pollution) of
gasoline. So there's a definite ecological benefit.
Engine wear is also markedly cut since methane, being
dry, cannot dilute nor contaminate motor oil in the
way that gasoline does... and sparkplugs last much
longer. "I've taken plugs out of my car after five
years and more, and they've been as clean as the day I
put them in," says Bate. "My car runs cleaner,
smoother and has more power on methane."
To prove his
words were no idle boast, Harold took me for a
demonstration drive in his famous 1953 chicken-powered
started the car on petrol and the vehicle broke into a
rather lumpy idle, Bate flicked a switch on the
dashboard and turned a knob on the steering column.
"I've cut off the petrol," he explained. "When the
float chamber on the carburetor empties, we'll be
running on methane. You'll see the difference."
And I did.
In a matter of moments the rather weary 18-year-old
engine settled down to a smooth purr and, on a short
demonstration run, the bulky vehicle made light work
of the switchback lanes around Bate's home. Throttle
response was incredibly good and there were no flat
spots such as are common with carburetion using normal
fuel in machines of this age.
The patented Bate Auto Gas
Converter with all frills removed. This
important piece of hardware and
instructions for setting up your own
methane plant is what you receive when you
buy a converter from Bate.
"I get five more miles to the gallon on methane than I
get from an equivalent amount of petrol," Harold said.
"This is because the dry methane has a higher
calorific value and there is no waste of unvaporized
fluid. Absence of oil dilution and reduced carbon
deposits are just bonuses."
Incidentally, all the advantages which methane bestows
on an automobile -- economy, pollution reduction,
longer life and reduced maintenance -- are just as
evident when the gas is burned in tractors, trucks and
stationary engines. Methane produced on the homestead
can also be used to heat water, run a refrigerator,
cook food, warm a house and do all the other jobs that
we now do with natural gas. With a large enough
digester and a ready supply of animal droppings, then,
it is possible that a family farm might supply all its
own power requirements from this one source alone.
it remains to be seen if such self-containment is
desirable. Perhaps we're all better off simply
recycling the manure back to the fields, selling the
car and appliances and getting a horse. Time will
tell. In the meantime, it certainly is possible to
construct a methane generator large enough to power a
homestead, and Mr. Bate has devised one that utilizes
septic tank wastes.
There are days when being a
world-famous chicken farmer-inventor is a
digester consists of a pit dug in the ground and lined
with brick or concrete (a tank built on a low
foundation above ground would also suffice) measuring
approximately 10-feet square with an adjoining storage
tank of the same size or larger.
the system for non-stop production of methane, the
usual septic tank vent pipe is fitted with a gas trap
and any other openings are sealed. A no-return flap
valve is fixed on the sewer pipe where it enters the
digester (to keep the gas from escaping through the
inlet) and another no-return valve is inserted in the
line between the extractor and storage tank. This
allows methane to pass to storage (but not return) as
the gas is generated.
A hole is
then made in the digester cover and a thermostatic
electric immersion heater is mounted so that it
reaches well down into the raw sewage. The thermostat
is set to give a steady heat of 85 to 90 degrees F and
another small hole is drilled in the digester cover
for the insertion of a check thermometer into the
sewage from time to time. This last hole is fitted
with a gas-tight stopper except for the brief periods
when a temperature check is being made.
If the tank
is built above the ground, the digester can be heated
by a steam pipe run through the contents and connected
to the domestic hot water supply. It can also be
heated by a gas ring or burner under the extractor
and, once methane is being produced, this burner may
be connected into the gas storage tank... allowing the
system to heat itself.
as this arrangement may be, Harold Bate's restless
mind is already far down the road to greater things.
At the moment he's waiting for a patent on his
discovery of a method for abstracting the liquid
content from chicken manure. It seems that chicken
droppings in their natural state are too sticky to be
a convenient fertilizer... but -- with the liquid
abstracted -- the manure makes two very good
fertilizers, one dry and one liquid.
so-called experts have been working on that one for
years," chuckles Bate. "I solved it in no time. It's a
question, I think, of overlooking the obvious. My next
project, if and when I get the time, is the
development of an electric car that will generate its
own power. I know I can do it."
meantime, Harold is still faced with the problem of
convincing the boffins and powers-that-be to accept
his already-proven ideas on methane. The Bate
conversion, you see, has already received the stamp of
official approval from the British Government's
Ministry of Transport... but it seems distinctly
unlikely that those chaps -- who collect a 75% tax
from the price of petrol -- are going to advocate a
mass changeover to homemade fuel at $.03 a gallon.
The story is
much the same right down the line: it takes money to
promote and market do-it-yourself methane on a large
scale... and the people with money generally find it
to their advantage not to promote methane.
Be that as
it may, the facts speak for themselves. Bate's
invention is simple, it's incredibly inexpensive...
and it works. Hundreds of people, who are now driving
chicken-powered cars the world over after contacting
Mr. Bate directly, can vouch for that. And the word is
beginning to spread.
So, until a
large firm finally sees the light, buys Harold out and
begins to promote his digester and converter in a big
way, Mr. Bate and his wife, Evelyn, will continue
doing the job alone. And that means that, for as many
as 18 hours a day, Evelyn will sit in the picturesque
16th-Century cottage answering letters while Harold
handcrafts methane generators in a small workshop at
the bottom of the garden path. That seems as nice a
way to change the world as any.